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North Dakota Tops U.S. States in Credit Ranking as Florida Rises

North Dakota, with a booming oil industry and an unemployment rate lower than anywhere in the nation, ranks No. 1 in credit quality among U.S. states, according to a report by Conning.

The state rates highest on a measure created from 13 indicators including revenue growth, year-over-year employment gains and foreclosure rates, said Hartford, Connecticut-based Conning, a money manager handling about $87 billion of assets as of Dec. 31. North Dakota rose one spot from November, when Wyoming held the top place.

“That line of states from North Dakota to Texas have a lot of the same characteristics,” including low debt, small social-service costs and booming agriculture and energy businesses, Paul Mansour, managing director at Conning, said in an interview.

The report is another indication that North Dakota’s natural-resource endowment is pushing the third-least-populous state to the front of the nationwide recovery. The state was the nation’s third-largest oil producer as of February, behind Texas and Alaska.

North Dakota’s economy outpaced every other state in 2011, with the fastest growth in personal income, jobs and home prices, according to Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. It has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, 3 percent, Labor Department data show.

Florida moved up 16 spots on Conning’s list to 21st after ranking 37th in November. The state gained from increased tax revenue, an improved general-fund balance and an unemployment rate that has dropped by more than 1 percentage point, according to the report.

“You think of Florida suffering from the real-estate crisis, but people are still moving in, they’re working and the state has done a lot of aggressive action to manage their fund balance,” Mansour said.

The Sunshine State ranked 28th in growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010, BEES data show.

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